The “Big Boys” such as Amazon, Zappos, WalMart, etc., have surely taken a lot away from small business. Likewise Google is accused, and rightfully so, of ‘killing’ certain markets in their pursuit to bring information to the masses while allegedly doing no evil. On the other side of the coin, these market place shifts opened up entirely new opportunities for those of us small business people who recognized them and were willing to adjust. As a small business entrepreneur you too are able to niche out a target market and use the new forms of technology to convey your message.
We’ll assume you want to increase your sales opportunities by focusing on your target market. You may even recognize a new market and beat the big guys to the rewards since you are more nimble and able to make decisions and implement them more quickly. So how does LinkedIn enter into your success equation?
From a sales and marketing view point you want to increase your connections because sales is a numbers game. It’s really this simple: talk to more people interested in what you offer, then convert a percentage who become your customers. And LinkedIn makes that task a whole lot easier for you by providing the database for your search criteria.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn talks about strong ties and weak ties in his 2012 book, “The Start Up Of You.” Quoting from a study by Mark S. Ganovetter, Reid writes: “The stronger your ties with someone, the more likely they are to mirror you in various ways…” You are also more likely to introduce them to others in your clique of friends since you share common interests.
That is great from a social view point. However, it is somewhat limiting in as much as the information that flows through the group is most always being recycled. It is your weaker ties who sit outside of your immediate circle of friends who are more likely to be exposed to new information as well as new opportunities. Reid references Malcolm Gladwell’s work when he continues: “Weak ties are important….as long as they offer new information and opportunities.”
Hoffman moves into the benefits of second and third level connections on LinkedIn displaying targeted connection links unveiled through searchable means. He thus offers us a tangible way to connect with our targets.
Three degrees of separation allows you to reach out to a fourth level through parties who at least know each other through the intermediary connections. You have a (first degree) connection, who is connected to someone (second degree) who is connected to your target (third degree). In other words, following this chain avoids approaching strangers or doing ‘cold calls.’
For example, just a few months ago I was able to connect to a banker (I’ll call him Mike) through this method on LinkedIn. I had hoped to start a business alliance with Mike. First I found one of Mike’s connections (let’s call him Jim) who was connected to me through two previous associates I worked with at ADT/Tyco who were Jim’s first level connections. Thus Jim was my second level connection and Mike was my third level connection. Being the brash digital networker that I am, I reached out directly to Jim with a message asking to connect, instead of asking one of my associates for an introduction. I based my request on our sharing of mutual connections. I asked Jim how he knew the others he was connected to. Jim responded by accepting my connection and responded to my query. This opened up Mike’s profile to me as a second level and gave me a way to contact him directly, which I did.
Leveraging your connections and target marketing are strategies I feel most small business people can use with LinkedIn’s basic free membership plan. Basic membership has some limits, one of which is 30,000 connections (although there is a back door way around that limitation which I used to connect with someone at one time). I don’t know about you, but I think I can live within that 30K limitation.
There is a caution about expanding your network too broadly. You should expand your connections but still control who you reach out to as opposed to becoming an open networker who connects with everyone and then tries to mass market via repeated sales messages. I don’t feel this is the goal of networking on LinkedIn and it becomes a turn off to me and may as well to many of your connections. It may thus defeat your purpose.
So, how do you easily expand your connections? Here are my three top choices:
The first and easiest way to expand your network of connections is, in my opinion, to import your email list(s). LinkedIn supports over 300 email providers.
Get started by going to the “Contacts” (third from left on your top navigation bar) and open. Click on < Add Connections > to open this window.
Select your service and import your addresses (which LinkedIn claims it will keep private). Click on < Any Email > if yours is not shown. LinkedIn imports your list and immediately compares the address to the LinkedIn database. You are notified who are already members of LinkedIn and you can reach out and connect with them. You can also select those non-LinkedIn members and send them an invitation to connect with you as well. They must join LinkedIn to connect.
Even if your email host is not recognized, you can upload a .csv, .txt or .vcf file. Or merely type out a list of individual emails separated by commas and paste into the input box.
You can easily connect with alumni. Just open the “Contacts” menu and click on a school you listed under education. The list of your fellow alumni who are LinkedIn members appears. If not already connected, you can request to be connected.
Join groups to expand your connections as well. This strategy is even more powerful in the long run than importing emails or connecting with alumni, although it takes a larger time commitment. There are nearly 1.5 million groups listed on LinkedIn. These include industrial, special interest, company, fraternal, volunteer, job searchers, professionals, etc., groups. There are over 121 thousand alumni associations and over 55 thousand groups with the word ‘university’ in their name.
There are some benefits to joining groups. For 2nd level connections within the groups you can see their profiles (but only the ‘shared’ connections). For all group members you can follow that person as well as see their activity. However, more importantly, you can send a message (without the use of the premium Inmails) and easily ask other members to connect. Being co-members of the same group also gives you a common point of interest to possibly leverage your request to connect.
Expanding your connections will expand your opportunities to grow your network and ultimately your business. I will sum up these series of articles and introduce you to some other available LinkedIn tools next week, as well as some networking philosophies and definite no-no’s I advise you to avoid.